Gateways to Fort Ancient

By Thos. J. Brown.

During a recent visit to Fort Ancient, after a period of several years, I was greatly impressed by the improvements that have taken place there since I have been acquainted with the fort. My visits to it were begun forty-seven years ago, and have been repeated at short intervals until late years, then not so often. When I first saw it, and continuing until about the time the State acquired title to it, it was one of the most neglected and uninviting tracts of land that ever came under my notice in Ohio, except for its historic associations it was very undesirable property indeed. It was, except a small tract near the road, a tangled thicket of trees, bushes, (principally briars), logs, weeds, etc. I believe it had more blackberry bushes on it than any other tract of equal size in the county. I have known people to drive 14 or 15 miles to it to gather blackberries, and feel well repaid for their trouble. The blackberry bushes have disappeared, with most of the undesirable undergrowth. Logs, brush, weeds and stones are also gone or have been applied to useful purposes. Those dreadful washes which were working back farther and farther within the ramparts from year to year have been arrested in their work of destruction and in some cases at least seem to be in a measure an element of beauty. Still the work of restoration is not completed. The few acres to the north of the public road ought to be added to the rest, and the road should be turned out of its present track through the fort and be directed to another alongside the hollow which bounds the fort along the north, until it gets beyond the fort. The main entrances to the fort would of course remain where they are, but they would then be private ones. The strip referred to would add greatly to the fine appearance and "business like" purposes of the fort. Although the ramparts along the north side are in no place more than a few rods from the road, they are so smothered with undergrowth and unshapely trees that they are not in sight of the road, and are hard to follow. If that tract were acquired by the State and put under the care of the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society, along with the rest, it would soon be made very attractive.

In reading descriptions of Fort Ancient we notice constant allusion to its numerous "gateways," and these are generally coupled with expression of wonder that there should be so many. Now I have made these "gateways" my special study during my whole acquaintance with it. I have walked the whole length of the ramparts and counted every footstep and every gap, and carefully noted the distance of these gaps apart, and long ago concluded that there are but about five bona-fide gateways, the rest being intended rather for points of defense than for places of ingress and egress. The earthen ramparts would afford little protection to the defenders in case an assault were made upon them. The inside slopes are as steep as the outside and afford no suitable standpoint, so the defenders' bodies would be protected and yet give him opportunity to see over the rampart. If he stood upon the top he would be even a better target for the assailants than they would be for him. I consider it necessary to conclude that each of these gaps was occupied with a blockhouse reaching out beyond the wall, forming a bastion from which defenders could enfilade the outside of the ramparts most effectually. The distance of these gaps apart is in no case too great to serve this purpose, and if we consider it in this way, the whole outside of the walls could be defended with very little exposure on the part of the defenders. There was evidently one gateway where the public road now enters from each side, and one at the extreme farthest end of the "old fort," one near the middle of the north side, and one most likely on the west side opening from the peninsula, and one nearly opposite on the east side. The rest of these gaps were intended merely to give opportunity for introducing blockhouses at proper distances and in proper positions for defense, and may have been supplied with small wickets, easily closed and easily defended. Even the acknowledged gateways were probably built in the same general way, but with the portal idea unmistakable and prominent.

Having appreciated the value of Fort Ancient so long, as a memorial of the mysterious Mound Builders, and having seen such marked progress in the way of preserving it, it is particularly trying and annoying to me to see such a small, and yet such an important portion of the fort still outside the ownership and jurisdiction of the State and Archaeological Society as the strip north of the road. The amount probably necessary to acquire it would be so little to the State, now out of debt, that it looks unpardonable that it should be neglected any longer, the public road should be turned around as intimated before, so as to throw the works all within one enclosure.

Let us hope that before another year has passed the few remaining acres may be added, and all will be safe.

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Source: Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publications, Volume XII, 1903.




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